Erythema Multiforme

What is erythema multiforme?

Erythema multiforme is a skin disorder characterized by symmetrical, red, raised skin areas all over the body. These patches often look like "targets" (dark circles with purple-grey centers). The skin condition may be chronic and usually lasts for two to four weeks each time.

Most often, this disorder is caused by the herpes simplex virus. Other causes may include the following:

  • An interaction with a certain medication

  • Other infectious diseases

  • Certain vaccines

What are the symptoms of erythema multiforme?

The following are the most common symptoms of erythema multiforme:

  • Sudden, red patches and blisters, usually on the palms of hands, soles of feet, and face

  • Flat, round red "targets" (dark circles with purple-grey centers)

  • Itching

  • Cold sores

  • Fatigue

  • Joint pains

  • Fever

The symptoms of erythema multiforme may resemble other skin conditions. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

Treatment for erythema multiforme

Specific treatment for erythema multiforme will be determined by your physician based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Severity of the condition

  • Stage of the condition

  • Your tolerance of specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the condition

  • Your opinion or preference

Erythema multiforme minor is not very serious and usually clears up on its own. However, if a person develops a more severe form of erythema multiforme (erythema multiforme major), the condition can become fatal. Erythema multiforme major is also known as Stevens-Johnson syndrome, and is usually caused by a medication reaction rather than an infection.

Treatment may include:

  • Treating the infectious disease causing the disorder

  • Eliminating any medication causing the disorder

  • Cool compresses

  • Corticosteroids

  • Antibiotics

It is recommended that if you have symptoms of erythema multiforme, go to your emergency room or call 911. If a large area of skin is involved, it is an emergency situation. 

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